Quick guide to the EU | Step 2: European Parliament

This is the second in a series of four articles about the European institutions and how the elections influence the way they work. We started off with the European Commission. Today we're focusing on the European Parliament. Stay tuned for articles on the Council of Ministers and why your vote matters.

Let's talk about the European Parliament!

The European elections are coming up and you are being asked to vote but maybe you don't really know what this vote will be for. Don't panic! This article is here to help you see things more clearly.

In the next elections to be held from 23 to 26 May, European citizens will have to elect the people who will sit in the European Parliament for the next five years (Members of the European Parliament or MEPs).

But what exactly is the purpose of this European Parliament?

The Parliament is one of the key institutions of the EU. It ensures democratic representation in the decision-making bodies of the European Union. Since 1974, it has been the only institution whose members are directly elected by the citizens. This last detail is important because, as you may know, the European Union has the competence to create laws in certain areas, and MEPs are actively involved in this legislative process.

What do they do there all day?

First, let me begin by explaining what a legislative act is. For this purpose, I will take the example of a state. Within each democratic state you have a separation of power: the executive power (held by the government), the legislative power (held by the national parliament) and the judicial power (held by national judges who are independent of the executive). The separation of these powers makes it possible to guarantee the stability of institutions and the protection of citizens.

Thus, the laws that apply to citizens at the national level come from a proposal made by the government or the parliament. And this proposal must be voted by the national parliament before becoming a law, according to the procedures that are specific to each state. If the vote is positive, the proposal will become a law and be applied and binding on citizens; if the vote is negative, the proposal will either be deleted or amended. In the second case, the new proposal will be submitted to a new vote.

A European legislative act is "a bit like a law", which aims to coordinate the national policies of the Member States in order to achieve a common objective. These acts are adopted according to a legislative procedure similar to the one at national level. First, it is the Commission that makes a proposal for a legislative act, then it submits this proposal to the European Parliament and the Council of EU (where national ministers sit). These two institutions will decide jointly, by vote, whether or not they wish to adopt this legislative act. This is what we call “the co-decision process”. Through this process, the European Parliament has legislative competence, but this is not its only competence.

What are the Parliament's other powers?

The European Parliament also has budgetary competence since it establishes, together with the Council of EU, the Union's annual budget. The Parliament also has supervisory competence over the Commission. The choice of members to sit on the European Commission requires the approval of MEPs, and since 2014, the election of the President of the European Commission is based on the results of the EU Parliament elections. And finally, MEPs can demand the resignation of the members of the Commission.

How many MEPs are there?

The next European Parliament will be composed of 705 MEPs (to this number you have to add the number of British MEPs since Brexit has been postponed to October). Seats are allocated according to the number of inhabitants of each Member State, so some countries have more seats than others. Smaller countries are over-represented - they have more MEPs per capita than bigger countries.

I hope that this information will help you to see things more clearly, and that you will think about voting in May!

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